Stacking Functions Garden

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Christmas treat #1: chocolate-drizzled macaroons

I’ve been in the mood to bake Christmas cookies for a couple weeks, but I didn’t get around to it until last night.  So to kick off our Christmas baking season, we made Coconut Macaroons from the Cookus Interruptus website.  Click here for the recipe.  I only changed two things. I used dark chocolate instead of semi-sweet, and I also didn’t have any parchment paper on hand — then I forgot to even grease the pan instead.  Big mistake.  They stuck, really bad.  They still tasted great, though!  We took a few pics of them so that we can enter the Cookus Interruptus Knife Giveaway photo contest.

OK readers, which of these do you think is the best one?


2. 3. 4.

This is a great treat for people who are allergic to wheat gluten.  These have no flour, and they have very little sugar — the only sugar added is in the chocolate, and darker the chocolate, the less sugar.  We made it with brown rice syrup, but they were definitely sweet enough for my palate.

More holiday treats to come this weekend!  Most likely this one will be the least naughty of the bunch (nutritionally speaking).


All I want for Christmas is a cargo bike

(The above image is from a funny essay about Amsterdam bicycle culture.)

Ever since I went to Amsterdam in 2006, I have wanted a cargo bicycle.  One evening as we were leaving our hotel, we saw two little kids wave goodbye to their Oma, climb into a box just like the one pictured above, and ride away with their mom.  It was a very sweet scene, and I was amazed that I had never seen bikes like this in America.

That was nearly four years ago, and these types of bikes have exploded in popularity.  The Xtracycle seems to be the most popular option in Minneapolis.  I see them all over the place, and their owners rave about them.  An Xtracycle is basically a bike with an extra-long back end. Fitted with a board, it becomes a super long and sturdy version of a traditional rear bike rack.  It’s also one of the most configurable and affordable systems I’ve seen, though we’re still talking a good $500 to get started with a nice conversion kit for your existing bike.

The obvious, much cheaper solution is to just get a simple bike trailer, right?  We own a Schwinn carrier which we used quite a bit this summer.  It works well, but really only for one very specific purpose:  hauling one or two relatively small children.  My twins are 2, and already by the end of this summer they were borderline too big for it.  So what will we do next year?  I think they’re going to be a little young yet to ride tagalong bikes.

The cheapest option of all would be a DIY long-tail cargo bicycle. Warning: welding is involved.  Now lobbying Adam to see if I can talk him into this as a fun winter welding project.

If you, unlike me, have anywhere from $500 to $5,000 to spend on a custom cargo bike, check these out:

Xtracycle — one of the more affordable ones
Larry Vs Harry from Copenhagen Cyclery in Chicago — all kinds of Dutch bikes
metrofiets custom cargo bikes in Portland, Oregon — start at $4,800 for full-builds
Clever Cycles, also in Portland — lots of cool options here

There are many, many more options out there.  This post was inspired by an NPR story today about cargo bikes, and the fact that we’re due for a winter storm tomorrow. Biking season 2009 is now coming to a close.

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A better Nutrition Facts Label

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is calling on the FDA to revise labeling on packaged foods.  Not only should dubious claims on the front of packages be scrapped, but the entire “Nutrition Facts” panel ought to be revised.  Click here or on the image below to download the 2-page PDF:

Whether the FDA will take their advice or not is anybody’s guess. See “Smart Choices” debacle.

(Via a tweet from Star Tribune reporter Matt McKinney.)


Book review: Edible Forest Gardens

Edible Forest Gardens
By Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier

In keeping with this evening’s theme of total honesty, I will confess that I only read volume II of this two volume set.  This was partially because of a mix-up at the library: I requested both volumes but I got two copies of volume II instead of one of each.  I’m not terribly disappointed, because volume II was exhausting just by itself.

This huge two-volume behemoth is really an advanced study of permaculture gardening.  If you are new to the concept of permaculture, you’d be better served by Toby Hemenway’s more accessible (and shorter) Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture.

However, if you are ready to go further with it, Edible Forest Gardens might be worth checking out.  Unfortunately, when you live in USDA hardiness zone 4, as I do, 2/3 of the information in books like this is useless because it only applies to warmer climates.  This frustrating aspect is present in nearly every gardening book I pick up, though, so I was hardly surprised.

This is an example of a book that would work so, so much better as a website.  There are pages and pages of really great data here, just begging to be put into a searchable database.  For example, they have all kinds of tables organizing different species of plants by their function.  So, one of the tables lists nitrogen fixers. But I’d love to be able to only see the nitrogen fixers that are hardy to Minnesota, and I’d love to be able to easily separate that list into sun-loving plants, and shade-loving plants.

Instead, I’m stuck going through with a notebook, trying to take notes of what might work for me in various areas of my evolving yard and garden.  There is a 32-page plant species matrix that tries to list every single aspect of every single plant, but I found it very confusing.  For one thing, it’s organized in alphabetical order by name of plant.  I would have loved to be able to organize it by other characteristics, such as “shade-loving” or “edible leaves.”

Yet, this book was also really inspiring.  The many illustrations of different forest garden systems people have set up really got me thinking about things I could try.  If I ever move somewhere and have a larger piece of land to work with, I will for sure buy this book to help me make plans.  Take a look at this sample illustration (click to enlarge):

I would love to try my hand at creating a real forest garden like this on a decent-sized open spot with plenty of sunshine.  Wouldn’t everyone, though?

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A cheesy confession

It’s likely that nobody remembers my bold proclamation in mid-September about how I was going to start making cheese.  I got this book from the library.  I read the first four pages of it, at least.

But I never got around to picking up ingredients to make any of the cheese recipes.  Then one day it was due back at the library, so back it went.  So I think that maybe cheese-making, beyond simple yogurt cheese, is something that I’m going to put on my mental back burner for a while.

I thought I should be honest about this, lest you all think that I’m some kind of superwoman.